Monday, March 24, 2008

Sarkozy's New Model Army

Sarko did more than promise to reduce the number of French nuclear warheads the other day. He also repudiated Chirac's plans to beef up the military. These date from 1996, when Chirac put forward a plan for a new and much-enhanced French army by 2015. But Sarkozy said that these plans were "unrealistic" and "obsolete." He also claimed that this was well-known, but that "no one told the French" people. Finally, he blamed his predecessor for saddling him with an unsound financial situation, which made it possible to meet the cost of building the new army, which he put at 6 billion euros a year.

All in all, it was a rather devastating critique of the Chirac regime and might have made a good campaign speech--for the Socialists, since Sarko was part of the regime he has now lambasted. He had little to say, however, about what sort of army modernization he envisions instead. It might be a good idea if he "told the French" a little more about this, since John McCain has also inadvertently leaked the news that Sarko plans to send 1,000 additional French troops to Afghanistan. Chirac planned to build up the army but mostly kept it home. Sarko is sending troops to Abu Dhabi and Afghanistan while ostensibly cutting the budget.

The president may have been reticent about discussing military details, yet his usual arsenal of offensive rhetorical weapons was fully deployed:

Chacun sait qu'au surplus ce modèle était irréaliste, on ne l'a pas dit aux Français, eh bien je le leur dis. Je me refuse à partir de ce modèle d'armée, pour simplement constater des renoncements. Il est vain de poursuivre indéfiniment des modèles hors d'atteinte".

The assertiveness, perseveration, and cocky certainty of bringing light to the blind are hallmarks of the Sarkozyan style.


Durando said...

I believe what is at stake is the digitization of the regular army. This is a costly and ongoing effort which has been undertaken by most western militaries in the past decade.

Changes in technology beget changes in command structure--this could be what Sarko is referring to. The French army reorganized under Chirac, adopting a more flexible brigade structure to replace the old division-based organization. Quasi-divisional headquarters were retained, each with a different operational responsibility but no organic brigades. This was done to improve command, control, and intelligence gathering in multinational operations.

French promises to up deployments to AF have scrolled through my RSS feeds for about twelve months now. Most of the actual commitment is a NATO assistance mission to the ANA. The French conduct training of all sorts for the ANA. There is also a small contingent under direct American command. Sending 1,000 additional troops to AF probably means strengthening the NATO mission. NATO's charter isn't anything other than aid and assistance to the ANG--the real fighting is done by US/UK/CAN troops whose charter is purely offensive in nature. Such a deployment will do little but help avoid Canadian charges that the French aren't pulling their weight.

Unknown said...

The ability to camouflage weakness as strength is not the least of the virtues of a political leader. To commit troops to Afghanistan without really taking on a combat role helps to placate the Americans on the cheap; to disguise a cut in the military budget as a new and more realistic assessment of the needs of a modernized military signifies a certain adroitness, not to say chutzpah. Sarkozy is sometimes good at this sort of maneuver, but his irrepressible pugnacity often makes him a less adept poker player than his natural cunning might achieve if coupled with tighter self-restraint.

Durando said...

That's a very useful summation of Sarko's rhetorical style, of which English-speaking journalists should take note. I think most Americans don't understand why so many French find Sarkozy abrasive and see instead something in him of what they wished Chirac might have been.

I'll dig around to see if I can't find something more substantive about what exactly he wants to change. (Digitization, for example, is something more costly to cancel in midstream than it is to see through to the end). The specificity of Sarkozy's projects seems remarkably lacking--I can't wait to hear exactly how he plans to cut l'Education nationale!

From what I hear through my sources at l'armée de terre there are indeed personnel cuts in the works, particularly among field-grade officers in addition to the normal sort of belt-tightening measures that arrive with every new administration or general. So, it is difficult to determine the origin of this effort. At the same time it is hard to imagine that limiting the career options of young captains is any sort of preparation for a prolonged deployment.

Anonymous said...

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